March 19, 2021
One year ago, no one could have imagined the magnitude of the economic devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause, and the extent of its disruptive impact to our way of life. Nor could anyone have imagined how protracted this crisis would be. The newly reported COVID-19 cases this past week remind us that the virus’ continuing threat remains in our community and that we all need to continue to be vigilant. CHCC’s and the COVID-19 Task Force’s quick action on the recent cases showcased our much-improved ability as a community to take better control of the threat, with experience, resources, and professional competencies to respond promptly.
It is critical that we also work toward regaining control of our economic future. Last week I wrote of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors’ (GCEA) basic mission: to chart an economic road map out of these unprecedented times. We’ve talked to experienced leaders in the public and private sectors, financial experts, healthcare professionals, and people representing a good cross-section of the community to identify strategic moves that would create the greatest impact in the next few years and beyond. The dialogues have ignited a sense of shared responsibility, and resolve that transformational changes are needed to create a more robust and resilient economy post-COVID.
The work from the past year culminated in our Annual Report, a plan that outlines 13 key economic initiatives. GCEA welcomes further discussion on these as our work continues and new stakeholders join the call to help us craft our recovery roadmap.
Of the 13 initial recommendations, two focus on opportunities for economic growth and new investment which can help fast-track our recovery. The proposal to restructure the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA) into the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority (CEDA) would refocus the agency’s priority to taking the lead on economic development promotional efforts. The proposal includes providing CEDA the needed authority, resources and tools to plan for, coordinate, and implement efforts to cultivate a stronger economic environment for investors. For decades, promotion of the CNMI as a viable destination for quality investment opportunities – those that create meaningful jobs, contribute significantly to our tax base, complement our attraction as a tourist destination, and enhance the quality of life for our residents – has been largely dispersed among various agencies. The CDA, Marianas Visitors Authority, Commonwealth Ports Authority, Department of Public Lands, Mayor’s Offices, the Legislature and the Governor’s Office have done their own promotion over the years through various trade missions, investment conferences, and others. While well intentioned, this uncoordinated approach has not worked well for us. We are pleased to learn that a CEDA bill we helped to draft has been introduced in the House and Senate and we look forward to further deliberation on it.
The GCEA has also recommended revisions to the Investment Incentive Act of 2000, better known as the Qualifying Certificate (QC) program, to help boost our efforts to attract new industry and establish the CNMI as a more competitive investment destination. We are in discussions with the Legislature and key stakeholders on this initiative and hope to report progress in the next few weeks.
Other GCEA’s recommendations call for a tourism revitalization plan, environmental protection, efficiency in the delivery of basic services, cultural preservation, transformation of local sites and facilities, and much-needed road improvements. We support revisiting the 2015 Integrated Resource Plan and one day having universal garbage collection CNMI-wide.
More recommendations are expected as the GCEA continues to reach out in the community to stir up discussions and spur new ideas. We welcome you to download the annual report from the GCEA’s Facebook page to get a deeper understanding of what we are aiming to accomplish with your help. TOGETHER, WE CAN take control of our economic future.
For more information, visit the GCEA on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy) or contact them at email@example.com.
By MIKE SABLAN
Mike Sablan is the Vice President of Triple J Enterprises, Inc., a certified public accountant, and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee for the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the CNMI for all residents.